To My Daughter On Her 9th Birthday

Today, Sophie turns 9. 10294241_10152373549978567_8987784410989901976_n Suddenly, my daughter is a completely independent human being with her own thoughts, likes, experiences and moods. Why is this important? When I think back on the past 9 years that I’ve been her mom, I realize that for a lot of her life, I saw Sophie as an extension of myself, and she didn’t really seem to mind.

Lately, though, it’s becoming all too real. My little baby, my madhouse toddler, my sweet and sour sidekick is no longer mine.

She is hers, and hers alone. In the past few years, I have had more of an education of how to raise a person, and not just mother a child, and let me tell you, it’s not easy!

There’s so many people who can tell you to let your child fail in order to help her learn from her mistakes. Have you ever stood by and watched while your child fails? It’s excruciating and took every ounce of willpower I had to let her stick it out and not try to swoop in and fix things for her.

Do you know how to get a child to tell you the truth? You have to let her tell you the truth, and hear it, without letting it upset you. Because a lot of time, the truth is hard to hear. When your child tells you the truth, she is telling you she’s done something wrong, or that she has an opinion that you don’t agree with. And if you really want her to be able to say the truth and speak her mind, I’ve learned the hard way –you have to let her, and not punish her for it, and pretend you’re bulletproof. Even when you’re most definitely not, and let those truthful words eat you up when you’re lying in bed, or staring out the window, or crying quietly in moments of desperation when you’re sure you’ve done everything wrong.

In her 9 years so far my daughter has also learned how to count on people. And that sometimes, you can’t, no matter how hard you want to. In learning how important it is to tell the truth, she has seen that many other people, even adults, don’t tell the truth or just say what they think she wants to hear. The disappointment of learning that people are human is very real, but also very necessary. Because it helps her to know that she has to accept people exactly as they are, and not try to pretend they are something they’re not.

Now that she’s 9, my Sophie has also learned that actions have consequences, and that every choice she makes is hers. This is not easy to help a child understand, since it takes a parent actually following through on those consequences to help her see that this parent means what she says, and that doing wrong results in life not being fun. Never was this truer when, in desperation, I told her about a year ago that she was grounded for a week for a particularly creative session of back talking, and in an even more awesome display of parental ignorance, I dared her to keep going and earn another week of grounding.

Which she of course did.

Those were the longest two weeks we have both experienced, and I was as much punished by that decision as she was. By the end of those two weeks, we were both exhausted and swore that would never happen again. It’s become a joke of sorts, “Remember when you grounded me for two weeks and actually stuck to it?” Yes, yes I do. And guess what, so do you, so it must have worked on some level. At least we both learned that I mean what I say.

It’s all these hard moments in parenting when we start to realize that the little kids who relied on us for everything, and those not-yet-formed people who were happy to go along with what we said and we only had to endure the tantrum here or the weepy tears there, are no longer here.

Instead we are now helping raise kids that are inching closer every day to being grown-ups, and the time that we had to teach, inspire, help and care for them is growing shorter. At 9, she’s going to be further along and more knowledgeable than I was as a teenager, and who’s to say what she’ll know at ten, twelve, or fifteen?

Our journey together has changed, it’s not just me and Sophie against the world. There’s more people in our lives, our family has grown and changed and she has more people to teach her, to help her, to frustrate and annoy her. And at 9, as I’m sure it was at 8, she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that her Mama loves her more than ever for her sweet words, her stormy tears, her grouchy moods, her shining achievements, and her amazing talents.

In short I love her just as I did that first day when I wouldn’t let that tiny infant sleep in any bassinet, even though it was right beside my bed. No, I wanted her right there on me, close to my heart. And even though her travels today take her further away from me as she lives in this world as an independent busy child, in my eyes she’ll always be right where she belongs, close to my heart.

A heart shaped leaf my daughter gave me. My hand on the left, hers on the right...

On this, her 9th birthday, and all the birthdays to come, that will never change.